Last week, The Washington Post revealed the lengths to which President Trump has gone to cover up what he and Russian President Vladimir Putin have discussed in meetings—even taking notes from an interpreter who was present.
Democratic lawmakers have suggested that this highly unconventional decision constitutes a violation of the Presidential Records Act and even kicked around the idea of subpoenaing notes from translators present for meetings between the two leaders. But U.S. Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, doesn’t seem too worried about what Trump is telling Putin behind closed doors—and, more important, what Trump doesn’t want anyone to know he’s telling Putin behind closed doors.
Manu Raju, CNN senior congressional correspondent, posed the question to Burr and tweeted the North Carolina senator’s response Wednesday: “If I were the president, I would try to claim executive privilege in anything that had to do with him.”
Senate Intel Chairman Richard Burr WON’T pursue notes from American interpreter at the Trump-Putin meetings.
“If I were the president, I would try to claim executive privilege in anything that had to do with him.”
Asked if he would try to get those notes, Burr told me: “No.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 16, 2019
According to The New York Times, Trump and Putin have met five times. It was in Germany that Trump tried to take the interpreter’s notes and ordered him not to discuss what transpired in the meeting, which Trump said included talk of whether Russians had interfered in the 2016 election. They also met—with only interpreters present—at a summit in Helsinki, Finland, where Trump sided with Putin over U.S. intelligence officials on the question of Russian interference.
Burr’s Senate Intelligence Committee is still conducting its own inquiry into election interference.
Congressional Democrats have raised concerns that Trump could try to claim that executive privilege extends to interpreters, should House Democrats try to question them. The White House has broadly used executive privilege to try to avoid questions on Russia from the Special Counsel’s office.
Executive privilege was designed to ensure that the president can receive candid advice from his aides, and can be invoked to prevent the disclosure of internal deliberations or information that poses a threat to national security. It isn’t intended, however, to protect the dissemination of embarrassing or politically harmful information. And courts have generally not ruled in favor of executive privilege claims when they could interfere with criminal investigations.